In the early Church, some proposed that the Old Testament be entirely removed from the canon of Scripture, stating that it had nothing to do with the call to follow Christ. Some, taking this to an extreme, believed that there were actually two gods in the Bible: the angry, evil God of the Old Testament that created the world and tortured creation, and the loving, good God of the New Testament who came to set us free from the tyranny of creation and save us from the angry God.

Naturally, both of these stances were condemned as heresies, as there is but one God, but there is a part of me that thinks that these ideas live on even today. Ask yourself: would you prefer the God of the Old Testament or the God of the New Testament? If you think you can actually choose… we have a problem on our hands. They’re the same God.

But most don’t see it that way, at least not implicitly. Even among faithful Christians, there is this innate sense that the Old Testament God is angry and wrathful while the New Testament God is loving and merciful. This is not only unfortunate, but a complete misreading of the Bible, and something that I want to address in this week’s Catholicism in Focus.

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Have you ever looked out on the world in all its vastness, seen the many trees and rocks and animals, and just wondered, “Why is any of this here?”

It may seem like a bit of a trippy question, but it’s an interesting one. Why is there something rather than nothing? The universe could have just as easily been an infinite void of space without any matter. Theologically speaking, God did not have to create anything; as a relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, God is a perfect community of love and so did not need anything else.

And yet, quite obviously, God did create something. And not only did God create, but God became a part of that creation.

Why?

I imagine that many are able to answer the second question with some confidence, that Jesus came to be like us to save us from our sins, but this doesn’t help us to answer the first question. There must be a different reason…

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When I was growing up, my parents had an interesting perspective on what we were allowed to watch: some violence was okay but not a lot, nothing with sexual content, and as longs as it didn’t use the “f-word,” the language wasn’t a big deal… as long as we promised not to repeat what we heard.

For the most part, I think it worked out pretty well! With the exception of accidentally saying a swear word to my friend’s mom (not knowing that it was a swear word!), I can’t remember either of my siblings getting in trouble for bad language. Hearing swear words did not seem to have much effect on us.

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this approach, and even the very idea of “bad” language, and wondered… is it really the best to take with kids?

Now, naturally, I have no intention of actually critiquing my parents, one, because their job was harder than anything I will ever do, but two, because they read this blog and I still want a place to stay over holidays. So, yeah.

But that’s not to say that Br. Tito and I don’t have opinions on the matter. In this week’s episode of Everyday Liminality, we look at the power that language has to both express and shape our world, suggesting that we should be careful how we use our words. Of course, the reason that we think this is probably not what you think, as it has little to do with being polite or avoiding sin…

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis canonized seven new saints, including one of my favorites, Oscar Romero. Romero was one of the first Catholic figures that truly inspired me, playing a significant role in my growth as a young Catholic, and I, like the people of El Salvador, had considered him a saint long before Pope Francis made it official. His life was exemplary in the way he heard the cry of the poor, allowed their pain to change his life, and turned around to be a prophetic voice for justice, leaving his own life behind. Like Dorothy Day a few decades earlier, I did not have to wait for the Church to tell me of his holiness; his commitment to the life of Jesus spoke for itself.

But it does raise an interesting question: how does someone go from being a holy person venerated by a small community to a universally recognized saint? In the early Church, saints were canonized by popular devotion—if their cult of following was great enough and their reputation endured, the Church accepted it. Naturally, this could not last forever, and in the 6th century, the Church began to require the investigation of the local bishop to approve devotion. By the 10th century, eyewitness testimonies began to be required, biographies were written, and a more formal process of canonization began. In 1588, with the reorganization of the Roman Curia, an administrative body was established to oversee, among other things, the recommendations for canonization to the pope. The process continued to grow in strictness, with the 1917 Code of Canon Law compiling 145 separate canons on the causes for canonization, only to simplified in 1983 with the current code, leaving us with what we have today.

Which is…?

A five (or so) step process including death, investigations, voting, and numerous titles, all of which is outlined in this week’s Catholicism In Focus.

And while this is all very interesting and no doubt important, I do want to leave it with one final thought. As beneficial as it is to have an official list of saints, verified and assured by our leaders, we mustn’t diminish sainthood to those canonized. Each and every one of us is called to be a saint, for a saint is merely one who resides for eternity in heaven. The Church may have 10,000 or more who are officially recognized, the actually number of people in the presence of God is astronomically higher. Regardless of whether or not we are every universally recognized, it should be our goal, each and every day, to grow in holiness like those we call “saint,” and to one day reach their level of holiness in Christ.

 

What a strange sight it is to return to your seat after communion only to find half the people in your pew no longer there. They walk up to communion with jackets on, purse in hand, and in one fluid motion receive communion as they’re walking out the door.

They got what they came for, so what’s the point in staying any longer?

When I see this happening each week I just want to shout, “Wait! Don’t leave yet! Mass isn’t over yet!” I wouldn’t… because, you know, I have tact. Also, I hate confrontation. But it doesn’t stop some priests. There was an infamous priest we used to see every summer on vacation who would literally call people out each week if they tried to leave early. If he saw people heading for the door before he made it down the aisle, he would actually call to them and tell them that mass wasn’t over. He would make an announcement either before communion or before the final dismissal that mass was not over until he processed down the aisle, so people were to remain in their pews. (Which… is not even correct. The procession by the priest down the altar isn’t technically a thing. The final part of the mass, according to the GIRM, is the reverencing of the altar. A procession to the door is simply a practical reality of getting the priest outside so he can greet the people, and there is no requirement that the congregation stay until the song is over. But I digress.) If I remember correctly, I think he even preached about it.

Okay, so it’s not that big of a deal…

But it is a little bit of a deal. Mass may not end with the priest processing down the aisle, but it also doesn’t end immediately after receiving communion. If this is something that you do, or think is fine, here are a few things to consider:

1. Communion, by its very nature, is a communal activity, not a personal one. If all we’re focused on is getting mine, regardless of others, I think we miss something about the experience. As I mentioned in the last video, the communion hymn begins when the priest receives and ends after the final person receives. Why? Because none of us truly receives until everyone receives. It’s a holistic, communal act. To leave the church before everyone receives turns the whole event into a personal experience, which is a shame. (If you’re going to leave early, maybe consider waiting until the end of the communion song.)

2. There are still prayers to be said. Sure, receiving the Eucharist is certainly the high point of the mass, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the mass doesn’t matter. Just as the penitential rite is not the most important part of the mass but still serves an important purpose, the prayer after communion serves the purpose of bringing the event to a close, giving the Father thanks for what we have just received. We did just receive something amazing, right? It only seems polite to say “thank you.”

3. Our prayer is a continuous whole, beginning and ending with the sign of the cross. To leave before the blessing leaves the prayer sort of hanging. We opened it but never brought it to a close. The symmetry is lost, the acknowledgment of the act is skipped over. Something about it seems incomplete if we leave immediately after communion.

4. And finally, much to the point of today’s video, the dismissal gives insight to the rest of the Mass. In being sent out—not just as a practical, “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here,” but as a Christological imperative—we see that our Christian life does not reside within the walls of the Church. To fulfill our discipleship, we must go! Too often we think of Church as the place to find God, to be a Christian; we come to Church to find refuge from the world. But it’s so much more than that. God is just as much in the world as in the church, and our duty is not to hide from the world, but to take the church to the world. In being sent out, we see that the reason we gather is not so much an end in itself (at least not the only end) but the means for discipleship: we gather together so that we can have the strength and inspiration to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.

I think that it is in this act that we find our true identity and purpose. As many theologians say today, we are not a Church that has a mission, but rather a people of mission that happens to have a Church. The Church—the institution, its prayer, its worship, its leaders—is not the complete end in itself for which the mission must support by raising money or gathering new members. It is the other way around: the mission we share—our call to follow Christ, making disciples of all nations—gives us our primary identity, and the Church exists to support and drive that work.

It is through this lens that we see the purpose of the Eucharist. Obviously an end unto itself in that we are in communion with God, it was also given to us as a means: to offer the guidance of knowing where to go and the strength to actually get there. The Mass is not an end in itself in the sense that our lives as disciples would not be complete if we remained in the liturgy our entire lives. It may be the “source and summit” but it is not the entire journey. By its very nature, by its dismissal, we are a people that goes forth, returning with new prayers, experiences, pains, and hopes, but ultimately so that we may go out again.

We are a people on a mission, and this is our prayer.